By: Justin Felisko June 05, 2014@ 03:00:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― Reigning four-time Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson has made it an annual tradition to bring the toughest Built Ford Tough Series riders to North Carolina during the PBR’s summer break for the past four years.
Along with some of the PBR’s top riders, Robinson and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have also provided his home state a chance to see some of the best bovine talent in the world that they normally could only see on national television during the BFTS season.
Now, Asheville bull riding fans will get to sit back and watch four different champions go head-to-head in a special Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Champions Challenge on Friday night during the fourth annual Jeff Robinson Invitational.
2013 World Champion J.B. Mauney, 2004 World Champion Mike Lee, 2006 World Finals event winner L.J. Jenkins and defending Jeff Robinson Invitational champion Gage Gay will all do battle at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center following the first round of the two-day Touring Pro Division event for a chance to win a $15,000 RMEF prize pack.
“The matchup with J.B., L.J., Mike and Gage is something you don’t get to see at most Touring Pros,” Robinson said. “We are hoping to get three or four guys to ride.”
Robinson said the four riders will participate in a bull draft consisting of KISS Animalize, Western Hauler, Percolator and Delco.
“I hope they all ride them and we’ll see who has the best ride,” he continued. “We don’t want them to buck off. We want them to ride.”
That certainly may be the case when Lee nods his head on Friday.
Lee, currently the fifth in the world standings, is one of the hottest riders right now after winning back-to-back TPD events in Uvalde and Decatur, Texas. More importantly, because of his win last week at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge, Lee is eligible to win a $15,000 bonus if he is to place first in the overall event in Asheville this weekend. Therefore, Lee, who has won a combined $18,598.62 the past two weeks, has the potential to leave North Carolina $25,000 richer.
“That would be pretty awesome,” Lee said. “It is not going to be an easy event to win. North Carolina always has really good bull riders down there. They get on rank bulls down there because there are a lot of good stock contractors that raise good bucking bulls and the bulls buck hard.”
Such will be the case in Saturday night’s championship round when Robinson rolls out some of his rankest bulls, including Rango and I’m a Gangster Too. Other bulls the Mars Hill, North Carolina, native expects to have buck in the championship round include Oklahoma Bell, Fire Rock, Walk Off, Percolator, Great White, Stanley FatMax and Wreck it Ralph.
“It will definitely be a gem of a short round,” Robinson said.
Short-round-caliber bulls like Rango and I’m a Gangster Too are part of the fire that fuels Lee. He enjoys the challenge that comes with taking on a bull that makes you go “whoa” when sitting back and watching him buck.
Lee is 0-for-3 against Rango in his career, including a 3.68-second buckoff in Phoenix. The 30-year-old rode I’m a Gangster Too in St. Louis for 88.75 points earlier this season.
“There is something about a challenge for me and seeing those rank bulls and how athletic they are and the moves they can make is unreal sometimes,” Lee said. “If I see something impossible, it really makes me want to do it.”
Lee, who’s first Built Ford Tough Championship Round appearace came against Little Yellow Jacket in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2002, rode the three-time World Champion Bull’s grandson Bruiser for 91 points last weekend.
He followed that up with an 88-point performance aboard David’s Dream in the Decatur championship round.
“I didn’t like that bull for a long time, but I have been watching him lately, and I just kind of got a fire in me and I just wanted to ride him,” Lee said. “That’s what a guy needs to have: a fire to ride those short-round bulls, and I have a lot of fire to ride a bunch of them.”
Mauney, who won Robinson’s inaugural Asheville event in 2011, rode with a similar kind of fire and determination during his historic march toward the PBR world title last year.
“Anytime you go to a bull riding Jeff is putting on, you know it is going to be good bulls,” Mauney said. “He has been the Stock Contractor of the Year the past couple of years and he has the best bulls going.”
It’s been a long week for Mauney. The Mooresville, North Carolina, native spent the past two days in Nashville for the CMT Music Awards after competing at J.W. Hart’s PBR Challenge last weekend.
“I’m glad to be there,” he added. “I’m about worn out from flying, traveling and going here and there, but I always go when the bull riding is in North Carolina,” Mauney said.
As the 27-year-old was leaving Nashville, he said to his wife, Lexie, “’You know what? I thought I wanted to be a bull rider when I got older. I never thought that would lead me to Nashville for the CMT awards.’”
PHOTO GALLERY: J.B. Mauney and his wife, Lexie, were at the CMT Music Awards this week.
Mauney will be hearing the ovation that many of the country music artists received when he climbs inside the bucking chute this weekend.
Asheville fans only have to listen to the first few seconds of “Bad to the Bone” blaring through the WNC AG Center speakers to know their home state champion is about to ride, said Robinson.
“He is a fan favorite across the country, but it is really special here with J.B.,” Robinson said. When they start playing “Bad to the Bone,” people know it and recognize it and cheer for him.”
On Saturday night, Robinson and his sponsors, with the help of Wendell Berry, are giving away a home to a select military veteran through 1,000 Miles Till Home and the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
One local high school senior will also be awarded a $5,000 scholarship in memory of Robinson’s good friend Paul Briggs Jr.
“This is one event where we try to give back and we are happy to do that in the home state and the hometown,” Robinson said. “Through the Elk Foundation and what they give back and through the scholarship fund and the 1,000 Miles Till Home we think this is our best event to date.”
He also believes the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Champions Challenge will be a showcase of the talented PBR riders.
“I expect them all to ride them and step up and do something pretty special,” he concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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